Image Credit: tentree
This post contains some affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, EcoCult receives a small percentage of the sale price. Some brands may have paid a small fee to be featured. We only recommend brands that we truly believe in. Support our editorial work by supporting them!
Many companies that outfit us for yoga and running are often the most enlightened about sustainability, presumably because they have a personal stake in preserving the spaces we need to refresh and unwind. That’s good news for us because it means we have lots of choices when it comes to ethical and eco-friendly activewear.
What to look for in ethical and sustainable activewear
Natural fibers: You can find brands made stylishly with a blend of organic cotton or hemp and a little bit of synthetic fiber for stretch. Organic natural fibers are not only better for the environment, they release odor better than synthetics. Look for merino especially, which is so sweat-wicking and odor-fighting that you don’t have to wash it after you exercise in it. Just hang it up to air out.
Recycled synthetics: If you need high-performance synthetics, go for recycled, which is super easy to find. And don’t worry: recycled plastic clothing is not inherently toxic, no matter what the wellness influencers say.
Performance: It probably goes without saying, but you want activewear that’s actually high-quality so you can wear it and wash it over and over again for years. Customer reviews are a great place to check for how well something fits and holds up after a month’s worth of gym sessions.
Non-toxic dyes and finishes: The dyes used to color your standard pair of leggings aren’t good for the earth—or you. Look for natural and/or non-toxic alternatives and certifications like OEKO-TEX. Also try to steer clear of toxic durable water repellents that are often on outdoor gear.
Fair labor and transparency: As with everything you buy, check for fair labor practices. Look for brands that prioritize transparency (do they tell you where their apparel is made?) and certifications like Fair Trade and SA8000.
Here are our favorite ethical and sustainable brands to shop for activewear and athleisure
Girlfriend Collective is known for its inclusive and sustainable activewear. Its leggings, bras, and shorts are made from recycled plastic bottles and old fishing nets, along with OEKO-TEX certified safe dyes. Everything is made ethically in an SA8000 certified facility where workers are guaranteed fair wages, safe and healthy conditions, and zero forced or child labor. You can also grab Girlfriend Collective’s Microfiber Filter, to stop the microfibers from your recycled garments from getting into our waterways!
Certified B-Corp tentree creates sustainable apparel that is designed in Canada and ethically manufactured around the world. It sources the most eco-friendly materials such as Tencel, recycled polyester, organic cotton, and hemp. Every time a customer purchases an item, tentree plants 10 trees in 10 countries around the world. tentree is also committed to replacing all single-use plastics with sustainable options and eliminating virgin packaging materials from its supply chain by 2023. So far, it has introduced eco-friendly solutions such as eliminating polybags from its manufacturing shipments and using certified recycled paper for all inserts.
Wolven activewear and athleisure are made from OEKO-TEX-certified, recycled PET plastic bottles and carbon-neutral modal fabric. It also partners with NativeEnergy to carbon offset their operations footprint and choose more eco-conscious packaging to ship products to their customers. Its Chinese manufacturing partner is certified by WCA for labor, wages, work hours, health, safety, and environmental practices.
Based in New Orleans, tasc Performance is a family-founded brand that designs activewear out of materials like organic cotton, sustainable bamboo, merino wool, and recycled polyester. Its products are moisture-wicking, anti-odor, UPF 50+ protection, and more.
Icebreaker uses mostly natural OEKO-TEX certified merino wool, with the goal of completely eliminating all synthetics in its products by 2023. It establishes long-term relationships with its merino growers in order to ensure strict animal welfare. 30% of its suppliers have worked with the brand for more than ten years. The company is committed to transparency and regularly audits its factories for things like waste management and human rights labor practices.
Made in the U.S., Teeki is an eco-conscious activewear line that designs colorful and free-spirited activewear made from recycled water bottles.
Summersalt creates comfortable and stylish activewear. Many of its garments are made with recycled or eco-friendly materials like Tencel, Tencel Modal and cupro. Summersalt ships its products in poly bags that are made from recycled materials.
Threads 4 Thought makes activewear for men and women made from organic cotton, recycled polyester, and Lenzing modal. In addition to its fair working conditions and water conservation, it also uses profits to support the International Rescue Committee.
Groceries Apparel makes active and loungewear out of natural materials like organic cotton, eucalyptus, hemp, and linen, along with recycled plastic and cotton. It operates its own factory in Los Angeles so it can keep a strict eye on worker wellbeing, as well as cut down on waste and increase traceability.
Stella McCartney’s eponymous label designs ethical and high-end clothing, shoes, and accessories with a responsible, honest, and modern ethos. Its sustainable and cruelty-free designs lead the brand to pioneer new alternative materials, pushing towards circularity and sustainability. This collaboration combines the iconic sportswear with Stella McCartney’s fashion innovation, symbolizing high fashion and top performance, with love for the planet.
prAna has a wide variety of active apparel options for men and women, including yoga mats, headbands, and other sustainable accessories. prAna uses materials like organic cotton, hemp, recycled wool, and recycled polyester. Its traceability has been meticulously documented, and everything is certified Fair Trade too. The brand is committed to ensuring all paper-based packaging is made from 100% recycled content, with preference given to post-consumer waste content by 2025.
A leader in sustainability for the past four decades, Patagonia carries a wide variety of activewear for men and women, whether you’re going for a hike, climb, ride, or yoga class. Its apparel is made with fully or partially recycled and natural materials and sewn together in fair trade factories.
Manduka uses fabrics made from GRS, OCS, and OEKO-TEX certified recycled polyester, organic cotton, and/or plant-based material like hemp or Tencel. Its fabrics are designed to increase airflow and stretchiness for your utmost comfort. You can also shop its eco-friendly yoga mats and towels, cork blocks, and other gear and accessories.
All of Rescue Plastics’ activewear is manufactured in LEED-certified, fair labor facilities out of recycled plastic products. To increase circularity, it developed a recycling system where you can return your previously purchased clothing to be recycled into new apparel, and get a credit towards future purchases.
Founded in 2008, eleven44 was created with a desire to provide comfort basics and unique streetwear and athletic wear for daily use. It works with several small family-run businesses in Bali that help the brand manufacture its clothing and jewelry. The brand sources certified organic cotton that is dyed using low-impact reactive dyes that are certified by GOTS.
Made in the U.S., Vertical Activewear is an on-demand activewear brand made from recycled and plant-based materials. It is Black female-founded, and inclusive, with sizes ranging from XS-5XL. Each Vertical Activewear piece is shipped using only recycled packaging materials.
Athleta, Gap’s inclusive athletic wear brand, is a certified B Corp, which is working its way toward more ethical and sustainable processes. As of 2020, the brand has been working on ensuring that 80% of its materials are made with sustainable fibers. And that 25% of its products use water-saving techniques. You can learn more about their sustainability practices and goals here, and just make sure to check the fabric before purchasing to make sure it’s eco-conscious!
Arms of Andes is the only activewear brand we’ve found so far that uses alpaca. The brand was started by a brother and a sister who were brought up in the U.S. in a Peruvian household, and their trips to Peru eventually inspired them to start a sustainable apparel brand using alpaca wool. Because of the way alpacas have evolved to live in such high altitudes, alpaca wool is not only completely ethical and biodegradable, but it’s also high-performing when made into clothing. Alpaca wool easily adapts to changes in temperatures, which means it’s great for hiking and other outdoor adventures. It’s also naturally odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, wind-resistant, and more. The wool Arms of Andes uses isn’t just any wool — it’s Royal Wool, the finest and most luxurious—and only about 1% of exported Alpaca wool is royal. This is why Arms of Andes clothing feels so much softer than other wool clothing you might have tried.
Shop Yoga Democracy for tops, shorts, and leggings made from recycled polyester and nylon. It uses a low-energy, zero-water process, non-toxic dyes, and donates 10% of its net profit to environmental causes worldwide. Yoga Democracy takes every scrap of material that passes through its shop and turns it into something useful. Its garments are sewn in California by responsible fabric manufacturers. Just make sure to order ahead, as many of its products are made to order and have a few weeks lead time.
Don’t forget to capture your microfibers!
Many of the brands above use recycled materials, which is awesome because it means less plastic clogging up our waterways and landfills and less non-renewable virgin materials used. But, you still have the problem of microfibers that slowly break off and enter our streams and oceans when you wash your clothes. To cut down on the amount of microfibers that shed off your activewear and into the water, try using one of these tools:
If you have your own washing machine, grab this Microfiber Filter from Girlfriend Collective that easily installs onto your washing machine and can capture microfibers from any of your synthetic laundry. It’s only $45.
If you don’t have your own washer, the Guppyfriend Washing Bag is a great option as well that can be used at the laundromat or taken with you for travel. Put your synthetics right in the bag, which will filter out microfibers. It’s only $30.